KARACHI (Reuters) - Pakistan’s interior minister warned of stern action against militants and criminals on Tuesday in Pakistan’s commercial capital Karachi, with unabated violence killing another 26 people over the past 24 hours.
Karachi, home to the country’s main port, stock exchange and central bank, has been plagued with fighting linked to ethnic and religious tension.
Police say about 200 people were killed in July alone — one of the deadliest months in almost 20 years.
Local media put the number even higher, and the Dawn newspaper reported that 318 people were killed in July. It did not say how many of these were targeted because of their ethnic or religious affiliations.
On Tuesday, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters that of the 26 people killed in the last 24 hours, 18 were victims of targeted killing.
He also said that the government had prepared a plan to tackle the deteriorating law and order situation in Karachi.
“We will take every possible action to restore peace in Karachi,” he said, adding that results of the government’s action will be visible soon.
The trouble in Karachi has continued despite the deployment of hundreds of additional police and paramilitary troops after violence erupted last month in the western Orangi town neighborhood, killing about 100 people in three days.
Paramilitary Rangers took control of the area, but violence has since spread to other parts of the city of more than 18 million.
Calls for peace by the government and other political parties have also failed.
On Monday, at least 90 vehicles were set ablaze in different parts of the city.
In one incident, at least 80 motorcycles were burned when dozens of people stormed a textile factory late on Monday and set fire to the vehicles parked outside the industrial unit. There were no casualties.
Karachi has a long history of ethnic, religious and sectarian violence and local quarrels and political disputes can often explode into battles engulfing entire districts.
Al Qaeda-linked militants targeted it for bombings, kidnappings and assassinations after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, when Pakistan joined the U.S.-led campaign against militancy. Foreigners were attacked in the city several times.
Over the years, street thugs and ethnic gangs have been used by political parties as foot soldiers in a city-wide turf war in Karachi, which contributes about two-third of Pakistan’s tax revenue.
On Monday, the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) called for a political solution to the violence in Karachi.
“Karachi is in the grip of a multi-sided wave of insecurity-driven political, ethnic and sectarian polarization that has greatly undermined its tradition of tolerance and good-neighborliness,” it said.
“While gangs of land-grabbers and mafias have tried to exploit the breakdown of law and order, they do not appear to be the main directors of the horrible game of death and destruction; that distinction belongs to more powerful political groups and it is they who hold the key to peace.”
The HRCP had previously said that 1,138 people were killed in Karachi in the first six months of 2011, of whom 490 were victims of political, ethnic and sectarian violence.
Additional reporting by Imtiaz Shah; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Ron Popeski